Respect the Systems

Having spent all of 2023 working solely on one project, Four Minute Books, I have happened upon several interesting realizations.

First, I did not miss some of my previous business ventures for even a minute. Not necessarily because I didn’t enjoy working on them, but because there was simply so much to do, there was no time to be bored.

Second, while I lost some income from not prioritizing those other revenue streams or shutting them down outright, I more than made up for it by making more money through Four Minute Books.

Third, I still wake up at night sometimes, thinking about all the problems and things that could go wrong. How it could all disappear the next day. No matter how “diversified” I am, that seems to keep happening regardless.

Fourth and finally, I entertained the idea that if I want to be a full-time author of books someday, eventually, I might have to let go Four Minute Books too.

The underlying theme of these insights is that life is full of systems, and systems deserve our respect.

A system is something so big, you can spend your entire life in it and never be done. Writing on Medium was a system, and so was my writing course. They, too, contained endless to-dos and could have provided a lifetime of busyness. I just chose to focus on Four Minute Books.

Focused energy spent in one system compounds. Scattered energy across systems dissipates. I could never have kept growing all three of these projects at the same time. Two of them had already been shrinking. But by putting all of my energy into the oldest, still-growing system that already worked the best, I managed to ratchet up the rewards by far more than I lost in removing myself from the other two systems.

No system is perfect, and every system will always have problems. Whether you wake up at night sweating about getting new business for your one-man painting company, making it to your son’s guitar gig on time the next evening, or whether you closed the living room window doesn’t matter. There’s no magic combination of systems that’ll forever let you sleep peacefully at night.

As that last bit already hints at, we are part of countless systems in our lives. They extend well beyond work and business. However, we also have limited time, energy, and attention to spend on and in these systems. Every now and then, we must decide which ones truly matter to us.

Running a household is a system. Raising a child is a system. Keeping your friend group together is a system. So is any job, business, and hobby. You’ll never get the balance right perfectly, and you’ll dip in and out of many systems without ever deliberately adjusting them in your overall calculation. That’s normal, but it is worth trying to pay attention to the few systems you care about the most.

Do you really want to give up your career in law to pursue one in the food industry? Or is it just a matter of rediscovering, perhaps even reinventing, your love for the system? Are you ready to commit to and really be there for your child? Or should you wait a few more years before firing up the parenting system? Of course, any shift can be managed when it happens. The point is to prevent friction where possible. There’ll be enough in any one system as it is.

The most important takeaway from all of this, however, is that systems deserve our respect. Four Minute Books, like any business, plant, or human, needs care, attention, and love. Without them, it can’t grow. If we can’t give these things to the system we have chosen, maybe we need to choose a different system.

At the same time, Four Minute Books is a system already so vast, I sometimes dream about its tiniest cogs. “I need to change that one word on that one page.” “I should add a PDF download there.” “How can I redo my email signup flow from scratch?” Any system offers millions of questions, challenges, and problems. Only when you really commit to one can you become an expert in tackling perhaps not all of them but at least the ones that matter.

Choose your systems wisely. Give thanks to the ones you’re parting ways with, and respect the ones you decide to embrace. May your gears always turn smoothly, but remember: Unlike when Han Solo powers up the Millennium Falcon, in life, it’s almost never “all systems go!”